Literary analysis of the play "Pygmalion" by G.B. Shaw

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1.  Social conditions in England in the beginning of the 20th century

2.  Shaw’s biography and his place in the development of the English literature

2.1  Early life and family

2.2  Personal life and political activism

2.3  Literary activity and criticism

3. Pygmalion – one of the best works of George Bernard Shaw

3.1 Plot of the play

3.2 Origin of the play’s title

3.3 Literary analysis of the play Pygmalion


The list of used literature





It is well known that literature plays an important role in learning a foreign language. In rapidly developing contemporary world the level of learning foreign languages may have crucial effect on well-being of a personality and the whole society. Without good specialists who know foreign languages professionally well this is impossible to have beneficial and effective negotiations and talks with foreign partners. All spheres of contemporary social and economic life today demands global contacts.

The English language today serves as a means of this contact between people and nations of the universe. That’s why the importance of learning and propagating of this language was paid attention by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan I. A. Karimov. In his speech in Samarkand on November 12 2010 he pointed out the importance of learning and teaching English and gave priority to the learning of it. It is not for nothing. Today it is well known that knowing this language may bring only favour and not harm.

English language developed in the course of time in its birthplace – England and later in such countries as the USA Australia New Zealand. The development of a language is determined by the development of literature. All the positive (and negative) features of a language can find their reflection in literature. Thus language is influencing the literature. In this point we can say that literature and language are intertwined and the learning of one demands the learning of the other one.

English literature has passed great and complicated way of development. It gave to the treasure of world literature such great names as Shakespeare Chaucer Byron Shaw Hemingway Twain and so many others.

The theme of my course paper sounds as following: “Literary analysis of the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw”. In this work I investigated life and creative activity of George Bernard Shaw and especially his famous play Pygmalion: the characters of the play and their spiritual philosophy conflict and social background of the play writing style of Pygmalion and the origin of its title.

Bernard Shaw occupies a conspicuous place in the historical development of the English and the world literature. In his books Shaw could realistically describe the social life of people. He considered language a lot and tried to reform English and make it easier to read and to learn. This point of Shaw’s creative activity determines the actuality of my course paper.

Shaw entered drama area as the original innovator. He established a new type of a drama at the English theatre – an intellectual drama in which the basic place belongs neither to an intrigue nor to a fascinating plot but to those intense disputes witty verbal duels which are conducted by its heroes. Shaw called his plays "plays-discussions". They grasped the depth of problems the extraordinary form of their resolution; they excited consciousness of the spectator forced him to reflect tensely over an event and to laugh together with the playwright at the absurd of existing laws orders and customs. In this assignment I intend to analyze the play «Pygmalion» of Bernard Shaw and show its peculiarities to the reader.



1. Social conditions in England in the beginning of the 20th century

The Edwardian era or Edwardian period in the United Kingdom is the period covering the reign of King Edward VII 1901 to 1910.

The death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 and the succession of her son Edward marked the start of a new century and the end of the Victorian era. While Victoria had shunned society Edward was the leader of fashionable elite which set a style influenced by the art and fashions of continental Europe—perhaps because of the King's fondness for travel. The era was marked by significant shifts in politics as sections of society which had been largely excluded from wielding power in the past such as common labourers and women became increasingly politicised.

The Edwardian period is frequently extended beyond Edward's death in 1910 to include the years up to the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 the start of World War I in 1914 the end of hostilities with Germany on November 11 1918 or the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28 1919. By the end of the war the Edwardian way of life with its inherent imbalance of wealth and power had become increasingly anachronistic in the eyes of a population who had suffered in the face of war and who were exposed to elements of new mass media which decried the injustice of class division.

Socially the Edwardian era was a period during which the British class system was very rigid. It is seen as the last period of the English country house. Economic and social changes created an environment in which there was more social mobility. Such changes included rising interest in socialism attention to the plight of the poor and the status of women including the issue of women's suffrage together with increased economic opportunities as a result of rapid industrialization. These changes were to be hastened in the aftermath of the First World War.

The society of that time can be divided into three categories: the upper class the middle class and the working class.

The Edwardian Upper Class consisted of the King and the Queen Aristocrats Nobles Dukes Viscounts and other wealthy families working in the Victorian courts. A distinguishing factor of the Upper Class was that the nature of their work was such that it held them in a powerful position giving authority better living conditions and other facilities which was out of the reach of the other two classes. Due to the changing nature of the basic standard of living of the people the traditional aristocratic class was now slowing disappearing and instead a new combination of nobles and the steadily growing wealthy class comprised of the Upper section of the society.

The Upper Class was by inheritance a Royal Class which was completely different from the Middle class or the Working Class. Thus they were never short of money. In terms of education also those belonging to the rich families got the best tutors to provide education. The fact that they represented the royal class gave these people an advantage at everything. They could buy expensive clothes imported from Europe or afford other riches of life that was beyond the scope of others.

Middle class was the next in social ranking as many of them only lacked in title of being a duke or other royals. Most of the professionals like doctors or teachers comprised of the middle class.

Middle class people also owned and managed vast business empires and were very rich. At times the rich were equated with the middle class if they had nothing to promote their royalty and richness. Thus those having their own businesses were regarded as rich and wealthy.

 The Lower/ Working Class: the lowest among the social hierarchy were those who belonged to this section of the society. Like the middle class those belonging to this class very large in number. The working class remained aloof to the political progress of the country and was hostile to the other two classes. For some working families the living conditions were so pathetic that they required their children to work in order to bring home some extra home to survive. The death of their father meant that there is no income to the family and they eventually were forced to live on streets or some public housing.

All these conditions had a negative impact on their lives. Many of them lost out opportunity to get education and better their living status as their entire life right from the age of five or six years was spent on working in a factory. They thus ended up doing dangerous and dirty jobs. Another class that existed was the paupers. They were ranked below the working class since they lived in abject poverty.

Surveys showed that at the beginning of the 20th century 25% of the population were living in poverty. They found that at least 15% were living at subsistence level. They had just enough money for food rent fuel and clothes. They could not afford 'luxuries' such as newspapers or public transport. About 10% were living in below subsistence level and could not afford an adequate diet.

The main cause of poverty was low wages. The main cause of extreme poverty was the loss of the main breadwinner. If father was dead ill or unemployed it was a disaster. Mother might get a job but women were paid much lower wages than men.

The children of the poor were expected to help towards the family budget often working long hours in dangerous jobs for low wages. Agile boys were employed by the chimney sweeps; small children were employed to scramble under machinery to retrieve cotton bobbins; and children were also employed to work in coal mines crawling through tunnels too narrow and low for adults. Children also worked as errand boys crossing sweepers or shoe blacks or selling matches flowers and other cheap goods. Some children undertook work as apprentices to respectable trades such as building or as domestic servants (there were over 120 000 domestic servants in London in the mid 18th century). Working hours were long: builders might work 64 hours a week in summer and 52 in winter while domestic servants worked 80 hour weeks. Many young people worked as prostitutes.


2. Shaw’s biography and his place in the development of the English literature

George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism his main talent was for drama and he wrote more than 60 plays. Nearly all his writings deal sternly with prevailing social problems but have a vein of comedy to make their stark themes more palatable. Shaw examined education marriage religion government health care and class privilege.

He was most angered by what he perceived as the exploitation of the working class and most of his writings censure that abuse. An ardent socialist Shaw wrote many brochures and speeches for the Fabian Society. He became an accomplished orator in the furtherance of its causes which included gaining equal rights for men and women alleviating abuses of the working class rescinding private ownership of productive land and promoting healthy lifestyles.

George Bernard Shaw ranks next to Shakespeare among English playwrights and yet he did not begin to write drama until he was middle-aged. He made up for lost time with an amazing output of more than 60 plays during a creative life that spanned the Victorian and modern eras. A brilliant and opinionated man Shaw was essentially self-educated and he did a splendid job of teaching himself what he needed to know. Above all else he was always vigorously engaged with the world around him; his long productive life bristled with vitality intelligence and a consuming passion for ideas.

2.1 Early life and family

George Bernard Shaw was born in Synge Street Dublin in 1856 to George Carr Shaw (1814–85) an unsuccessful grain merchant and sometime civil servant and Lucinda Elizabeth Shaw née Gurly (1830–1913) a professional singer. Shaw briefly attended the Wesleyan Connexional School a grammar school operated by the Methodist New Connexion before moving to a private school near Dalkey and then transferring to Dublin’s Central Model School. He ended his formal education at the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School. He harboured a lifelong animosity toward schools and teachers saying: “Schools and schoolmasters as we have them today are not popular as places of education and teachers but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents”. In the astringent prologue to Cashel Byron’s Profession young Byron’s educational experience is a fictionalized description of Shaw’s own schooldays. Later he painstakingly detailed the reasons for his aversion to formal education in his Treatise on Parents and Children. In brief he considered the standardized curricula useless deadening to the spirit and stifling to the intellect. He particularly deplored the use of corporal punishment which was prevalent in his time.

When his mother left home and followed her voice teacher George Vandeleur Lee to London Shaw was almost sixteen years old. His sisters accompanied their mother but Shaw remained in Dublin with his father first as a reluctant pupil then as a clerk in an estate office. He worked efficiently albeit discontentedly for several years. In 1876 Shaw joined his mother’s London household. She Vandeleur Lee and his sister Lucy provided him with a pound a week while he frequented public libraries and the British Museum reading room where he studied earnestly and began writing novels. He earned his allowance by ghostwriting Vandeleur Lee’s music column which appeared in the London Hornet. His novels were rejected however so his literary earnings remained negligible until 1885 when he became self-supporting as a critic of the arts.

2.2 Personal life and political activism

Influenced by his reading he became a dedicated Socialist and a charter member of the Fabian Society a middle class organization established in 1884 to promote the gradual spread of socialism by peaceful means. In the course of his political activities he met Charlotte Payne-Townshend an Irish heiress and fellow Fabian; they married in 1898. In 1906 the Shaws moved into a house now called Shaw’s Corner in Ayot St. Lawrence a small village in Hertfordshire England; it was to be their home for the remainder of their lives although they also maintained a residence at 29 Fitzroy Square in London.

Shaw’s plays were first performed in the 1890s.

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